Bitten by the acting bug in high school, Matt O’Neill began exploring theater and film in his hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. To fulfill his creative drive for storytelling and further cultivate his skill and love for his craft, the actor eventually made the leap to Los Angeles. Hitting the ground running, Matt wasted no time becoming involved with background theater work and auditioning for indie films. Since getting his footing in the film capital of the world, Matt has made a brief appearance in the 2010 hit comedy Hot Tub Time Machine as well as working on both sides of the camera for Josh Hasty’s Candy Corn (read our review here). I recently caught up with Matt to speak about his love for film, his work as a producer/actor on Candy Corn, his lead role in Benjamin Cooper’s Edgar Allan Poe’s Lighthouse Keeper (read our review here) and some exciting upcoming projects that are on the horizon!
PopHorror: Hi, Matt! Thank you for speaking with me.
Matt O’Neill: Of course! My pleasure.
PopHorror: I’m aware that you’re in quite a few independent horror films, from Kipp Tribble’s Coffin 2 to Josh Hasty’s Candy Corn. Are you, personally, a horror fan?
Matt O’Neill: I am! I grew up being a big horror movie guy. I remember going over to my aunt’s house when I was a little kid, and that’s where I was first introduced to Freddy Krueger and all the other ’80s horror villains. I’ve been a big horror fan ever since, and I’ve been fortunate enough to find some work in that arena!
PopHorror: That’s great that you followed your passion, and it landed you into a genre that we all love! When did you realize that you wanted to pursue acting for a career?
Matt O’Neill: I would say that it dawned on me in high school. But I look back on it, and it’s always kind of been in me. I was always doing that as a little kid. I was always putting on scenarios and getting kids in my neighborhood involved (laughs) and forcing my little brother to partake in whatever I came up with. But it was in high school when I did my first stage play that the bug really bit me. And it clashed with all my sports. So, I ended up quitting all of my sports teams and diving into stage work. We did two musicals and two plays a year, and it went on from there!
PopHorror: Unless I’m mistaken, you didn’t grow up out west. What sparked your decision to make the leap to Los Angeles?
Matt O’Neill: I grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which is a great theater town! So, I was able to get my feet wet doing quite a bit of theater, regional commercials and some indie film work. I kinda capped out that market. At the time, there was a bit of a wall. Now, you have some Marvel stuff being shot there as well as some bigger budget films and Mindhunters. At the time, there wasn’t much stuff being shot there. I felt like I capped out everything I could, and I wanted to do what I could to make this thing a full-time career. So, I made the jump to L.A. in 2006.
PopHorror: I’m glad that you made that leap! I know that you had a small appearance in Hot Tub Time Machine starring big names like John Cusack and Craig Robinson. What was it like working on such a big production?
Matt O’Neill: It was fun! I was in bar scene with them when they’re watching the Denver Broncos game because they have money on it since they already know the result. (laughs) I don’t think I’m spoiling anything at this point for anyone. But this production was big, and it was a blast! You could see how many moving pieces are involved in making such a big film. At the time, it was the biggest film I had been a part of, and they kept it running like a machine. They came in prepared, professional, nailed it and moved on. And, they had fun with it by incorporating some improvisation. I absorbed all that, took all of it in and learned as much as I could from it. It was a blast!
PopHorror: I recall that you gave a great performance in the film Edgar Allan Poe’s Lighthouse Keeper playing opposite Vernon Wells. How did you become involved with this production, and what was it like working with Vernon?
Matt O’Neill: That was a lot of fun! I met the director, Benjamin Cooper, a few years prior to Lighthouse Keeper when I auditioned and booked a part in his film called Primitive, and we hit it off! We went up to the central coast where the movie was shot to do our appearances and promotional signings for the premiere of Primitive. Ben and I got to talking at dinner about other things we could do. He brought up this idea of a ghost film he was thinking about doing and he already had access to a lighthouse location. So, we started brainstorming about where we could go with this idea. Ben took these ideas and wrote the part for me when collaborating with Carl Edge who co-wrote the screenplay. Ben pitched it to me and we decided to go for it.
Ben had done two movies with Vernon before Lighthouse Keeper and wanted to work with him again. So, Vernon and I were introduced to each other on set a couple of days before we started shooting. And Vernon is a blast! He’s a really fun guy! Really down to earth. For people who haven’t seen Lighthouse Keeper, Vernon and I play the same guy at different time periods. It’s almost like a purgatory parallel timeline. I sat down with him to study his mannerisms, speech patterns and anything else that I could take on. I mean, I’m playing a younger version of him, yet, we’re on screen at the same time in parallel intersecting universes… it’s kind of a mind-bender. So, the first time I really got to meet him, I was studying him to be able to put on his skin, become him in a way, in preparation for the role. It was a lot of fun! Since then, we’ve collaborated on a couple of other projects, and we occasionally get together for dinner and coffee. His wife is wonderful, and we’ve been great friends ever since!
PopHorror: That’s great when this craft brings people together like that. What was the biggest challenge working on this production?
Matt O’Neill: The biggest challenge, I would say, was the late hours. It was long, and we had to shoot a lot of nights. Overnights are always tough. And it got very cold and windy. I know it’s funny to say that it gets cold in California, but on the central coast, it does! Especially at night when you’re on the rocks right over the water. It was, by far, the most beautiful location that I’ve ever shot at in my life! The Victorian lighthouse you see in the film was on location perched right over a cliff overlooking the ocean. What you see on the screen is really what that place looks like. It’s gorgeous! But it got cold and the wind was whipping. So, we had some audio issues that we had to deal with, and we had to go in and rework some of the lines. The wind interference was just that vicious!
PopHorror: What is your favorite memory from Edgar Allan Poe’s Lighthouse Keeper?
Matt O’Neill: The whole thing was a blast. It’s still one of my favorite shoots that I’ve done because it’s so gorgeous up there, and we had such a tight knit crew. The entrance to the lighthouse location was a private drive that had very limited, guarded access. So, we had to meet at base camp at the bottom of the mountain where the guard shack was located, and they would only allow us so many people. They wouldn’t let us have a full production crew, so we had to work with a skeleton crew. So, we became a little bit of a family, and that was very cool. Because we were shooting overnights, we would be driving up the mountain as the sun was setting. There were gorgeous sunsets over the ocean that we saw as we drove up to the lighthouse. As we were driving back down at the end of a night of shooting, we saw the sun rise. So, every night of production, I was able to see the sun rise and the sun set over the Pacific, and it was so surreal and beautiful.
Of course, there were some challenges. Anyone who has seen the movie knows I was submerged in ocean water inside a cave, which was about 40 degrees. That water was so cold! But it was all worth it. Just to be filming in that location was wonderful.
PopHorror: I’m aware that you not only make an appearance in Candy Corn, but you helped produce the film. What was the biggest challenge from this production?
Matt O’Neill: Time and money. You hear that quite a bit with most productions, but that applies especially to this one in particular. Josh Hasty and his crew had some problems they ran into before bringing me on as a producer. There were some people who tried to take advantage of them, and they had to deal with getting rid of that negativity and move forward. So, they had a big gap in production when they lost their funding.
When they finally got the money, it was a go, and I received the call on October 31st of 2018. We had to be on the ground in Ohio shooting for our first day, which was November 15th. So, I had two weeks to put this whole thing together from LA, get out to Ohio to begin shooting, all before taking a break for Thanksgiving, and then continuing to film for another week or so. It was a big challenge putting all of these pieces together with no pre-production time or money.
When I produce a projects, I might get about 3 months of pre-production, and this was two weeks total. But we did it! We pulled it off. Everyone came together and ground it out. We had quite a few great people involved, and, as you’ve seen, the movie is doing very well! We’re very fortunate that it came together the way that it did. From the time I started that job until after we wrapped, I pretty much didn’t sleep at all for the entire time (laughs) and then I crashed hard the day after we were done shooting.
PopHorror: It sounds like you were under the gun on that one! What was your favorite memory from filming Candy Corn?
Matt O’Neill: The whole thing was great! The lighthouse for Lighthouse Keeper was one of my favorite locations that I’ve ever filmed at in my entire life. But as for overall experience in production, it was with Candy Corn, with the people and the relationships I built during that production, which was all great. I really made quite a few lifelong connections on that project. Josh and I are in the works on something again right now, which is still in development. And, I loved the carnival set that we used. The circus tents, the lights, the rides and everything were functional! It was astounding. Getting to work with the special effects crew was great! We had a couple of the guys who just won an Oscar for Vice who worked on the special effects. The camaraderie between everyone on that set just blew me away.
PopHorror: Having experience as a producer and an actor, what side of the camera do you prefer?
Matt O’Neill: I would say that would depend on the project. I love working on both sides of the camera. But, above all, I just love storytelling. I live and breathe it. To be on any side of the camera is just a dream come true. If I’m right for the role and it’s going to benefit the project? Then I want to be in front of the camera. But, to me, the overall well-being of the project must come first. And, if I can serve the project as an actor, then by all means. But if I’m not perfect for the role, then I think it’s better that I stay on the production side and get the right people involved. I don’t have a preference, and I feel very fortunate that I get to do this on both sides of the camera for a living. It’s just a dream come true.
PopHorror: Do you have any upcoming projects that you would like to mention?
Matt O’Neill: Yes! We just completed a project that I shot with Writer/Director Pablo Macho Maysonet IV called Await The Dawn. We finished production last April. The movie is done, and it’s being sent out. We just picked up a couple awards from festivals including Best Horror Film and Best Sound Design. It’s currently being reviewed for distribution deals by a couple companies. So, it should be releasing to the public soon.
In addition to that, I have several big projects in the works with my production company which includes a nice western piece. Another one is a movie about one of the biggest organizations in the world right now that, to this day, will not acknowledge its origin – where it began and who influenced what we see from this organization today. I can’t go into too much detail, but this could generate them acknowledging it for the first time in history, and I think it could generate some real social change. I will be working on another horror film with Josh Hasty who is currently finalizing a script. We’re keeping this one pretty hush hush, but to keep people excited, it’s very beautiful, very romantic, very artistic, but quite disturbing. True horror fans are going to love it.
PopHorror: It sounds like you’re quite busy with some very exciting projects! I look forward to seeing more of your work. Thank you, again, for your time.
Matt O’Neill: My pleasure!
As Matt continues with his filmmaking career, we’re excited to see more of his involvement on both sides of the camera. With several notable productions under his belt and more on the way, this talent shows no signs of slowing down. And with such passion driving him forward, we wouldn’t have it any other way!